Joe Schuster talks state of the ski film industry, plus 2013 season edit
Twenty-four-year-old Joe Schuster is somewhat of a dark horse. He’s been around for a while—competing a bit here and there and appearing in Voleurz films—and he may have been flying under your radar, but the Vernon, BC native is making a push into the spotlight. He spent a good chunk of time shooting with Poor Boyz this season and appears, albeit briefly, in the new release Tracing Skylines. He made the trek to Alaska in May with his clothing sponsor, Eira, and bagged shots for an article that will appear in Freeskier later this fall. He just recently posted his 2013 season highlight reel online, and within the first few days logged more than 12K views. Going forward, he’ll be focusing full time on shooting video. He’s committed to succeed. He’s got skills. So, what’s up in Joe’s world? We discuss.
Your new edit showcases a handful of rad pillow lines, some fun mini-golf hits and some massive backcountry booters, too. Is that shot 100% in the Whistler backcountry?
Thanks a lot. Yeah, it pretty much is. We did a trip to Revelstoke earlier in the year and there are a handful of shots from there in the segment, but other than that, yeah, it’s all Whistler.
Do you have a favorite zone out there?
Not really. I mean everywhere around Whistler is super sick and offers something different, so it’s fun to explore them all and ride different features. But I would say we ride Rutherford and Brandywine the most.
Joe Schuster, 2013 Online Part (Full Version)
Did you have a standout day in the backcountry this past season?
Yeah, I definitely did. In the middle of WSI/AFP World Champs we went out one day, got totally socked in with weather, and decided we might as well build a couple hits rather than do nothing all day. That night, everyone who was in town for the contest was going out to party because they had a day off. I was tempted to go out, really bad, but I held back to make sure I was ready to go the next day. So, that next day, we rolled in to the first step down and Charlie [Ager] hit it first, and did a switch 5. Then I went and got the switch 7 tail on my first hit and was super stoked. Then, a couple hits later, I got the 5 safety that is my first shot in my segment. After that we hit this super poppy jump right beside the step down. I got a good 7 tail right off the bat and then wanted to try the dub 10. I have done lots of dub 12s before in the park before but was never able to keep them at 10. Within three hits I got it, and actually couldn’t have been happier. I understand how lame claiming tricks can be, but after getting a switch 7 first hit, regular 5, regular 7 and now learning a new trick to end it all, I honestly couldn’t help it. I have never been so happy.
Ever get into any dangerous scenarios?
Yeah, I had a landing rip out on me on my second hit this year. I had built this jump with Pep [Fujas] and Heni [Mike Henitiuk] and then after I came down, and they realized I was safe and all good, they gave me shit about ruining the landing after all the work we put into the jump. It was all in good humor.
Who did the majority of your filming this season?
Brandon “Sherpa” Kelly from Poor Boyz. He lives in Whistler and knows his way around the backcountry here super good, so he is honestly the best person to go out and film with around here. Tyler Hamlet [PBP] came out with us a fair share as well, but I think 95% of my segment is filmed by Sherpa.
Is it a coincidence your edit is 4:20 in length?[Laughs] Total fluke, but yeah, that’s pretty funny.
Setting up shots out there ain’t exactly a walk in the park. How often do you get out? What are the biggest challenges you face?
No, it’s definitely a challenge at times. Well, this past year I think I went out sledding as much, if not more, than I went on the hill to ski. We’re always trying to get shots, even if they’re just pow turns or cut shots. Plus, you can always find freshies out in the backcountry somewhere or just rip around on your sled, so we always go sledding. Biggest challenge would definitely be weather. Although Whistler has what most people would consider the best backcountry terrain in the world, it really doesn’t have that many sunny days. So, that means lots of down days, or days waiting around for light, but when the sun is out and the snow is stable it goes off out there for sure.
Revelstoke. Photo by Brandon Kelly_PBP.
In the past few years, you’ve been touring around North America competing quite a bit in slopestyle and big air contests, balancing your competition and your film schedule. But you’re switching gears to full time film, yes?
Yeah, I have tried to do the contest scene as well as film on the side forever it feels like. But yeah, I’m definitely filming full time now. It would be super fun to do another slopestyle contest some day, but the way they are progressing right now I don’t know if I could keep up. Something like [X Games] Real Ski or [Red Bull] Cold Rush are contests I would love to do in the future, though.
Any hesitation there? The opportunities for cash and sponsor deals aren’t quite as prevalent when it comes to full time filming.
Definitely no hesitation with my decision. Yeah, there might be more money in the contest scene but all of my sponsors are super supportive of my decision, which I need to take a second now to thank them for that. But yeah, my sponsors are happy with what I am doing.
Times are changing, though. More and more athletes are leveraging the mini movie format. In the past few months we’ve seen Wallisch drop The Wallisch Project, Hornbeck unveiled Wreckallections, Dumont released The Collection and Tanner will soon be sharing The Lost Season. Of course, things like Real Ski and the Co-Lab are shining some more light on the film side of the sport, too. What’s your take on all of that?
I think these types of contests are awesome, and a huge opportunity for film athletes to make money and showcase this aspect of the sport to a huge audience that might not see it otherwise. As we are seeing more and more, and myself included, skiers are either one: focusing on making the Olympics, devoting all their time and energy into that, and that is all, or two: stopping to compete in halfpipe and slope contests and trying to focus on other parts of the sport. These types of film contests are opening huge doors for those who have chosen to move away from the pipe and slope contests. Huge prize money, huge media audiences and a chance to showcase your talent the way you see it over the period of an entire season or a few months, rather than two judged runs.
Capturing Instabangers in Alaska. Photo by Nate Abbott.
It’s not uncommon for skiers to bust their asses all winter long, only to have their footage end up on the cutting room floor by the time summer rolls around. After releasing an edit like yours, are you satisfied, despite the fact you may be disappointed with the way your footage was presented in the major film releases?
Well, like I said I am very satisfied with the way this edit came out, I’m really happy with my footage. The music is something that I picked and feel is an expression of my personality and what I listen to, and it’s getting a really positive response from the public so far, so that all makes me super happy. That being said, if this edit was what I had for a segment in PBP’s new movie, then I would obviously be way more happy with that, than what I currently have. There is no way this edit will get as many views or as much attention as it would if it were in that movie, nor will it be judged for film awards or reviews or anything along those lines, which is definitely disappointing. That being said, I am not trying to say anything negative about PBP whatsoever. I love those guys. The past two years filming with them having been 100% their decision, there have been no sponsors throwing down huge money saying, “You have to film Joe and give him a minimum of this much time in the movie,” which is what happens with a lot of people and sponsors. I pretty much owe any film exposure over the past two years to Tyler, Johnny [Decesare] and Sherpa, because if it wasn’t for them wanting to film me, and put me in the movies, regardless of money, I would have never had that coverage with one of the most established and well respected film companies in the industry. So, thank you guys. I owe you big time for everything you have done for me.
Like I said before, and like you just touched on, it’s not uncommon… This is a scenario that plays out more than most folks probably realize. What are the realities? Why are so many athletes’ hard-earned shots being edited out of films? For the production companies to release the footage, allowing skiers to produce their own edits, just like you’ve done here, is that enough? Is there a better solution, in your mind?
Well, I think there are a lot of reasons why shots are getting cut these days. Sometimes, they might not fit the segment… Stormy shot mixed in with a bunch of sunny stuff might not look good to the person editing, and they will cut it. Slight imperfections, like a small arm wave or backseat landing… I understand that for some people things need to be clean, but personally I like a little bit of that stuff—it shows a person’s style and helps portray how hard it might be to do a trick rather than look like a robot and have everything look so easy.
But I think the majority of the reason why shots are getting cut is because the film industry is a business for people. When a film company has to employ six or seven people full time just to make the movie happen, then cover all of their costs for travel, costs to produce the movie, costs to do a film premiere tour and so on, it really adds up quick and is a surprisingly huge amount of money just to make a 40 minute movie. So when big brand X comes to the film company and says here is $50,000 or whatever the number might be, but you need to film these couple skiers and make sure that they have this amount of time in the movie and are one of the major focuses of the movie, the film company thinks, “Well, this is going to keep our company alive and running rather than us run footage of someone else who doesn’t have that much money behind them, and have us go bankrupt, so I think we’ll take the offer from brand X.” That is why I completely understand where film companies are coming from when that happens. I mean, who wants to go into the red and not have a job, right?
As for part two of the question, I think it’s great that film companies are giving athletes their footage to do what they want with. If they didn’t do that, then the rest of my footage would never see the light of day. Is it enough? I don’t really think so. Like I mentioned earlier, it won’t be judged for movie awards, won’t get you more credit other than your online presence, makes premieres less exciting as an athlete, and it is harder to justify to your sponsors that you’re working your ass off getting all these shots and getting things done. And yeah, I think there are two very simple solutions to this problem. First, convince big brand X to sponsor you and to put a bunch of money behind you to make sure all your footage is run. Not a very easy option. Two, go and do your own thing, create your own movie, show things the way you see it. Put out what you think should be out there, and the way you want people to see it. Also, extremely hard, but possible. I.e. Stept’s Mutiny, and some of the other short films you mentioned earlier. Until you can make one of those happen, stick with what you’ve got, work hard at it, don’t give up. Do whatever you can to make one of those options a reality, but don’t forget to have fun with it and not let that other political bullshit ruin you. It’s skiing for fuck’s sake, it’s supposed to be about having fun with your friends.
Cheers to that. Speaking of fun, what about The Kids? The crew is established, but I think we’re still waiting for you guys to make a big move, to stake some more claim on the proverbial map. Am I wrong?
No, you’re completely right. We dubbed ourselves The Kids a few years ago and were planning on making a movie. As reality set in, quickly we realized it wasn’t as simple as just calling some companies, getting some money and then making a movie. There is a lot of work that has to go into the making a movie that not many people see, and that is what we have been dealing with over the last while. But I will say this… We have been working super hard this fall to bring everything together and make it happen for this winter, and I think this could actually be the year we get to make the first ever Kids movie.
Revelstoke. Photo by Brandon Kelly_PBP.
Are there any skiers you look to for inspiration?
Candide [Thovex] for sure, he was always my idol as a kid. As well as Tanner Hall in his 1242 and Teddybear Crisis days. Not taking anything away from him now, I have huge respect for Tanner always… He has helped make our sport what it is today, but I’m just saying that in those two videos I have never loved skiing so much in my life, and he was skiing better than anyone else, and was my favorite at that time, for sure.
Anything outside of skiing that influences your riding?
It’s becoming people who inspire me lately more than anything. Not so much other sports, or taking tricks from another sport, but people, and how they go about doing whatever it is they do. Their motivation, lives outside of their sport and overall personality.
Any specific plans for the upcoming season? Trips in the works?
Everything at this point is still in the works, nothing solidified. I would really like to compete in Real Ski Backcountry. That is honestly my biggest goal for the future right now. That and actually make The Kids movie happen. That would be the most rewarding thing ever for me I think. Does Freeskier have any more feature articles they want to involve me in?
Huge thanks to all my sponsors for their support, no matter what I’m doing. Eira, Liberty, Dragon, Pow Gloves, Whistler Blackcomb, Cariboo Brewing. And thanks to my family and friends more than anything, you guys keep it fun.